Andy Wendelborn gives his luggage a workout, no doubt about it. He’s tested the mettle of his travel bags, backpacks and suitcases through 39 U.S. states, five Canadian provinces, two Mexican states, three South American countries and seven European nations. Germany is already on the books for this summer.
Wendelborn is an associate director for student services in Mendoza’s Graduate Business Programs. His job involves assisting students with everything from coursework to international travel. But Wendelborn is probably best known within the Notre Dame community for his outsized passions — for causes, for making connections and above all, for travel. He has an enviable talent for just going ... and finding the time and budget to make it happen.
His Facebook news feed resembles a travelogue. Here he is at the Wisconsin Brat Fest eating some ridiculous sandwich; there he is taking guests on a whirlwind tour of Lake Michigan community haunts. Then he’s taking his mother and grandmother to Chile, and a few months later, he’s shepherding a group of students through China.
Not bad for a fellow who grew up in Wisconsin and Indiana and never left the Midwest — with the exception of a fifth-grade fishing trip to Canada with his dad — until he was in college. Wendelborn didn’t even board a plane until the age of 21 when he flew to London for a five-week trek across Europe to Rome. If he was apprehensive (and he was), his anxiety was assuaged by the words of French author André Gide: “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
“That’s something that’s stuck with me ever since that first trip 20 years ago,” says Wendelborn. “The line ‘has the courage’ is really important to me. It suggests a growth moment to get out of your comfort zone and have that courage.” Even though he’s become a highly experienced traveler in the intervening years, some trips still require a reminder of what can be gained by leaving all that is familiar behind for a while.
China, for example. Before Wendelborn went to China for the first time in 2015, he felt a fair amount of trepidation. Part of his job involves managing the school’s international immersion trips. “I had no understanding of China before that trip for work. And, frankly, China would not have been a bucket list place for me,” he says.
But at the outset of the visit, a presentation given to the Mendoza group gave Wendelborn a new perspective. The speaker that day drew a circle on a map around Southeast Asia, China and India, home to more than 3 billion of the world’s 7.6 billion people. “He said that what those people do in that circle is not weird,” Wendelborn remembers. “The foods they eat, the things they do might be different from what we’re used to. But it’s not weird — because there’s a heck of a lot of people that do that normally every day. That’s probably the single most important thing that I took away from that first trip.”
This spring, Wendelborn again led a group to China where they visited businesses in Beijing and Shanghai and were briefed on the economic climate at the U.S. Embassy. They squeezed in tours of the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the emperor’s summer palace. For Wendelborn, this time around was like reconnecting with an old friend. “I was so excited to go back a second time. There’s so much out there to learn and see,” he says.
“Physiologically, traveling is like exercise for the brain,” he adds. “If you consider the brain as an organ that’s constantly building new connections, you can almost feel your brain growing when you go on these trips. You’re learning and seeing new things. When you come back, all of that helps you have a better awareness of people and the human condition.”
Last summer, Wendelborn traveled with a friend to Prince Edward Island in Canada. He travels frugally, which often has the side benefit of affording real glimpses into life in the community. Although the family-run inn in Nova Scotia initially looked a lot like the infamous Bates Motel of “Psycho” fame, he says, “Actually, it was the quaintest little place. We had a seaside view. We saw the fog roll in at night.”
Wendelborn has some tricks up his sleeve for getting more travel bang for your buck. One is to dig deeper than the mainstream travel websites to find bargain accommodations. “They’re usually family run and close to what you want to see,” he says. They often have the additional benefit of being more plugged in to local life.
He also deliberately connects with Notre Dame alums in his travels when possible. Occasional couch surfing extends his budget, to be sure. But seeing people as well as places gets to the core of why he travels. “I try to make my travel focus on people — not just on going to see places and things,” he says, “but sharing an experience and keeping relationships going with whoever I might know in those places.”
He’s aware that it’s easy to wait and see alums when they return to campus for football games, but feels it’s important to make a deliberate point of catching up with Mendoza graduates on their own turf.
But for all the places he’s been and things he’s seen, Wendelborn’s signature is to leave something iconic for the next time he visits. In Nova Scotia, for instance, he skipped the musically rich Cape Breton region. And he’s looking forward to one day returning to London, where his traveling life began. “I never went to Westminster Abbey. But I definitely want to go next time I’m there,” he says. “Travel changes your perspective on a lot of things. I wish everybody everywhere has an opportunity to travel outside their comfort zone at some point.
“That said, I always like the coming home.”